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Russian Bikers Start Ride Toward Berlin, Despite Polish Entry Ban

  • RFE/RL

Riders from a Russian nationalist motorcycle group on April 25 began a ride toward Berlin to commemorate the Soviet Red Army's offensive against Nazi Germany, despite Warsaw’s announcement that it would refuse to let them into Poland.

About 20 motorcyclists, including members of the Night Wolves motorcycle club, set off from Moscow with the aim of crossing into Poland to eventually reaching Berlin on May 9.

Poland, alarmed by the aggressive nationalism of the Night Wolves, said on April 24 that it wouldn't allow them entry.

But Night Wolves leader Aleksandr Zaldostanov said on April 25 that the riders would still try to cross into Poland on April 27 as planned at the border near Brest, Belarus, despite the Polish decision.

He said if Polish authorities won’t let the group ride in as a motorcycle column, they would “go individually, from various points” and “by a different crossing.”

If they make it past Poland, it is unclear if they eventually will be allowed into Germany.

But a high-ranking German government official told the Associated Press on April 25 that Germany would prevent leading members of the Night Wolves from entering the country.

Those remarks suggest that Zaldostanov is likely to be singled out by German authorities if he reaches the border of Germany.

But it was not clear how other Russian motorcyclists trying to pass through Poland would be affected.

The group has said that it plans to ride through Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria in order to reach Berlin on May 9.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has protested Poland's decision to refuse entry to Russian motorcyclists on the tour, saying it is "indignant."

Washington announced sanctions against the Night Wolves in December amid reports that it engaged in armed activity in Crimea during Russia's takeover of the Ukrainian peninsula.

But the Night Wolves have not been blacklisted by the EU.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ridden with the Night Wolves.

The group draws support from the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Despite tense relations with Russia that have been aggravated by Moscow’s role in Ukraine’s conflict, Poland has given permission to other Russian vehicle processions in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of European fighting in World War II.

On April 25, about 200 motorcyclists were part of a motorcade that traveled from Russia's Kaliningrad exclave to a memorial for fallen Soviet soldiers at the Polish town of Braniewo.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, RIA Novosti, and TASS